23/08/2015 8:17 AM AEST | Updated 15/07/2016 12:51 PM AEST

Robots Take Over Queensland University


It’s not exactly a Terminator-style Judgement Day, but robots are indeed taking over Queensland University of Technology this weekend.

The Robotronica festival will roll into the Brisbane university on Sunday, showcasing dozens of electronic tools, toys and tricks from engineers, inventors and roboticists (yep, roboticist is a real word).

“Robot” is given a broad definition by organisers. There’s the standard, vaguely human-shaped electronic models in a variety of sizes; there are flying drones, and a world champion drone racer; a fleet of autonomous boats that have filled the university’s swimming pool; performance artist Stelarc, who is growing an internet-equipped ear on his arm; and self-professed “cyborg” Neil Harbisson, who has an antenna attached to his brain to enable him to “hear” colour.

Neil Harbisson (Supplied/QUT)

“It’s a showcase of the latest in robotics, both here in Australia and internationally -- a public engagement event to give the broader general public an idea of what’s happening in this rapidly developing field,” said creative director Jonathan Parsons.

“We’re on the cusp of a second revolution in robotics. The first revolution impacted industry and manufacturing, but now we’re seeing robotics impacting almost every aspect of our life.”

Parsons said the robots on show cover the full gamut from entertainment to medical, environmental to scientific.

A robot that acts as a human simulator for medical students -- “it bleeds, it breathes” -- will feature, as well as robots that can play marimbas as part of a human band.

Visitors can have a turn piloting an underwater robot that can be used for seabed clean-up, and experience Radius, a “robot storyteller built to educate and engage children”.

“Not surprisingly, people have a perception of robotics from popular culture like Star Wars and science fiction," Parsons said.

"We’re not quite at the Star Wars point yet, but its interesting that these writers and film-makers almost create this imaginary space that scientists follow,” Parsons said.

Nao robot and children (Supplied/QUT)

For a robotics exhibition, it is notable that some of the most interesting attractions are the humans. Harbisson is “the world's first government-recognised cyborg,” with a computer system allowing the colour-blind artist to see colours.

“Recent upgrades have included an internet connection allowing him to receive music and phone calls directly to his skull,” read a QUT release.

Besides Stelarc, with his internet-equipped ear, another human model on show is Jason Barnes. With a prosthetic arm, he claims to be the fastest drummer in the world.

Parsons said the exhibition meant to serve a dual purpose -- to show the latest advancements in technology, but also to reassure visitors about what the future holds.

“There’s quite a lot of fear about these changes in society. There’s quite a number of reports on predictions in next 10 or 15 years, of what jobs will disappear because of robots," he said.

"It’s important to become knowledgeable about what the impacts are, and the skills young people will need to develop so they can participate in this society,” he said.

“Coding should be the second language of this new generation. It's about demystifying what’s happening in this space.”

Photo gallery QUT Robotronica See Gallery